Algonquin & Beyond

Parkside Bay Map & Overview

Parkside Bay is an interesting lake to consider when planning a trip. It’s essentially a dead-end lake that’s a detour away from the main canoe routes south of Highway 60. There are two entrances into the lake, one of which requires a good amount of portaging from Smoke Lake, and the other which requires a good amount of paddling from Ragged Lake. The paddling option is by far the more popular choice. Shocking, right? The travel time between both options is almost identical, taking roughly 3 hours to reach Parkside Bay from Smoke Lake. Although, if you double-carry portages, that would add a significant amount of time for the portaging option. But even with single-carrying, I don’t know many people that would choose portaging over paddling!

Parkside Bay is very pretty, but it doesn’t offer the typical remote feeling of the backcountry. Due to how easily accessible the lake is, with only one portage and 3 hours of travel time from the Smoke Lake Access Point, it attracts a lot of new campers. It’s a great starting point for people just beginning to explore backcountry camping, but this means Parkside Bay can often attract large, loud groups of people. There’s also decent cell service in parts of the lake, which can be good to pull weather forecasts, but can take away from the feeling of being truly disconnected. Of course, you could just leave your phone at home, or keep it on airplane mode. The park also stashes a motorboat on the north shore, so you may see them come and go throughout your stay. I’m not trying to be overly critical of Parkside Bay. It’s a beautiful lake with some gorgeous campsites. I just think it’s a destination that’s better suited for new campers, or as a shoulder season destination.

Note: Yes, Parkside Bay is a “bay” (who would have guessed?) but I’m going to use both “bay” and “lake” in this report.

Map of campsites on Parkside Bay in Algonquin Park, updated for 2024
To purchase your own copy (physical & digital formats), visit Maps By Jeff

Campsites on Parkside Bay

There are a handful of reasons not to visit Parkside Bay that I’ve touched on throughout this report, but the campsite selection isn’t one of them. Many of the campsites on Parkside Bay range from being good, to being great. 

The campsites on the western and southern shorelines of Parkside Bay are the least desirable, by far. The three campsites on the northern shoreline are nice, although they’re relatively close together and the park stashes a motorboat between two of them. The peninsula sites in the eastern section of the lake are without a doubt my favourite campsites on the lake. 

The two island campsites are also pretty awesome. They have totally different vibes from one another, but I’d be perfectly happy camping at either of them.

The campsites located in the narrows are hit-or-miss. Campsite #2 and Campsite #4 don’t particularly appeal to me. Campsite #3 was surprisingly decent. And Campsite #5 and Campsite #20 are great campsites, based on my personal preferences.

I’ve been able to document almost every single campsite on Parkside Bay. For detailed written descriptions and photos of each campsite, you can view my Campsite Reports 👇

Paddling On Parkside Bay

Paddling on Parkside Bay is one of the main reasons to actually visit Parkside Bay. The lake is often used as a multi-day destination, commonly as a weekend getaway for new campers. Once you’re at Parkside Bay, there isn’t much to do. Unless you’re portaging north as a day trip (let’s be real, no one is doing that) the only adjacent lake to explore would be Ragged Lake, which you’ve already seen on your way in and out of Parkside Bay.

Paddling north through the narrow stretch from Ragged Lake into Parkside Bay is peaceful and scenic. There are large rocky shorelines to admire, predominantly on the east shoreline, and a handful of small bays that will grab your attention while you double-check to see if moose are present. After passing a few of the campsites in the narrows you’ll turn west and head towards the main body of Parkside Bay. It’s an inviting feeling paddling through the final stretch of narrows, with the vastness of the main body of water getting closer and closer.

There’s a large island right as you enter the main body of Parkside Bay. Trying to paddle north around the island will not be feasible, so make sure you stick to the south of the island (this is the natural choice anyways, going north would need to be an intentional choice). The main body of Parkside Bay is large and circular, meaning you can see the entirety of the lake almost all of the time. Paddling into the few inlets in the northeast end of the lake doesn’t offer much excitement, but circling the lake and getting to view the shoreline from every angle will provide a strong sense of familiarity with Parkside Bay.

Portaging To Parkside Bay

There’s technically only one portage leading into Parkside Bay, which is the 350m portage from Soaker Pond. This is the final portage in a stretch of three portages that lead from Smoke Lake to Parkside Bay. Some people do choose this route to enter/exit Parkside Bay, but the vast majority of people will choose the alternative entrance, which is coming from Ragged Lake. So, while the 350m portage is technically the only portage that leads directly into Parkside Bay, it’s not the most common entrance. The portage itself is relatively flat and easy, with only a 13m elevation change downhill between Soaker Pond and Parkside Bay. 

Even though the 250m portage from Smoke Lake to Ragged Lake doesn’t lead directly into Parkside Bay, I’m still going to mention it because it’s the most common route that people will travel through to get to Parkside Bay. Plus, it’s the only portage that stands between the Smoke Lake Access Point and your campsite on Parkside Bay.

The 250m portage has a large beach landing on the Smoke Lake end of the portage, and a rocky decline that leads to another beach landing at the Ragged Lake end of the portage. The first half of the portage on the Smoke Lake side is full of rocks and roots and follows a steady incline upwards. It’s the more challenging half of the portage and you’ll want to be careful with your footing, especially after rainfall when the portage can become muddy. After the incline finishes, the portage levels off and becomes flat with much friendlier terrain. It stays like this until the short rocky decline at the Ragged Lake end of the portage. Despite only being 250m, the incline at the beginning of the portage is a good way to get your heart pumping at the start of the day!

Parkside Bay Trip Reports

I had my eye on Parkside Bay for a number of years, but it wasn’t until September of 2023 that I actually visited Parkside Bay for the first time. I did a quick 2-night getaway with my pup Elo. We arrived to an almost completely vacant lake for the first night, so we got first choice of campsites. We stayed on the gorgeous northern peninsula site in the northeast end of the lake. During the second night, the lake was fully booked. We watched as groups started to arrive throughout the day. By the evening, it was basically a party on Parkside Bay. There were plenty of large groups, a few of which were pretty loud. The circular shape of Parkside Bay unfortunately means that sound travels quite easily across the lake. Park staff had a motorboat stashed on the north shore of the lake, and they visited my campsite to check my permits. 

Despite the lack of remoteness, it was still a very pleasant trip. I was able to stay at a beautiful campsite and the fall colours were starting to dominate the shorelines, which made the landscape particularly scenic. Plus, the weather was hot and sunny during the day, and cool in the evening… a perfect mid-September forecast!

The Verdict... Camp or Skip?

This is a tough one. Parkside Bay is very pretty, and the lake itself feels secluded since you have to paddle through the long narrow stretch to enter the lake, and because there is only one portage leading into the lake. It has a ‘dead-end’ feel to it. But at the same time, there’s a motorboat stashed on the north shore by park staff, it can often attract large, loud groups of campers, and sound travels easily over the circular shape of the bay. So despite it being an aesthetically pretty, secluded lake, it just doesn’t have the remote backcountry feeling to it.

If you’re new to backcountry camping, absolutely I would give this a “camp” verdict. It’s a great place to spend a weekend, or to build into a short canoe route in the region south of Highway 60. It’s easily accessible and has plenty of beautiful campsites. But Parkside Bay is a detour from any longer canoe route, so experienced trippers that are planning longer routes would likely avoid Parkside Bay and stick with something directly on their route like Ragged Lake or Big Porcupine Lake instead. Experienced trippers also tend to prefer non-motorboat lakes, and lakes that don’t attract large groups of people. So for the more experienced folks reading this, I’d give it a “skip” verdict unless it was the shoulder season and the lake had high vacancy.

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